Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thoughts on this semester, and a prayer

What follows is a highly personal post.  I have published it because I need to get this stuff out of my system and into actual words to alleviate some of the stress I'm feeling right now.

I'm exhausted, but cannot fall asleep. I have too much on my mind.

This semester has not been my best.

Between outside stresses, a highly charged living situation, and a somewhat lazy constitution, I am not achieving the way I'd like to be this semester. Unlike previous semesters, when I focused more on my studies, I find that I am increasingly distracted and less motivated. Oh, I do my schoolwork, and I study for my quizzes and tests, but always at the last minute. I have this weird notion that things are going to magically get done and figure themselves out on their own, without me having to do anything, which of course is delusional, as nothing will get done unless I actually do it.

I know that a few of the reasons why I am not working the same way I used to are in my control, but there are quite a few factors that are outside of it. I find that I worry more about the things that are out of my control though and ignore that which is in my capacity to change. This of course is counter-productive, as I end up wasting time thinking and worrying about that which I cannot change rather than working on modifying my study methods and the way I spend my time so that my schoolwork will get done earlier and more efficiently.

I just need to snap out of this worrying cycle and concentrate on the things that I have to do.

Hashem, Hashem, I need You to give me the presence of mind and the self-control to do what is most pressing, and to use my time well, so that at the end of the day I'm not upset that I wasn't productive.  Please help me to relinquish my need to worry about things that are not in my control, and to realize that even though the waiting is hard, and that sometimes difficult things happen to me, I have it within my power to change my mindset and to approach things healthfully.  Please help me have the courage to use my resources effectively so that I can properly use my energy to serve You.  Sometimes it's hard for me to do things even though I know they need to be done.  You have put role models and mentors in my path to guide me.  Please let me be open to their mussar and their guidance so that I can best achieve my goals.  Please . . . I need You.  I feel Your presence, and I know that it's there . . . just please let me understand the hints You are giving me and utilize them effectively.  Please help me make the right, Torahdik decisions.  Please let me make my family and those around me proud and happy.  I know you gave me the capacity to do all these things - I am trying so hard.  I really am.

Making lists

In light of recent posts around the Jblogosphere, I dug up this poignant story from my youth . . . just kidding. Actually, I think this story says more about my parents than it does about me, maybe.

Anyway, when I was younger, there was a period of time during which I thought my mother was going to lose her job. Both my parents work b"H, and if my mother would have lost her job or stopped working, we would have been living off my father's salary.

Something compelled me to make a list of the things that I could forego - things that I thought we should cut back on, should we only be subsisting on my father's salary.  More or less this was my list at the time (in no particular order):
  • No more ballet lessons
  • No more music lessons (my brother and I were playing violin at the time)
  • Cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions
  • End book club membership
  • Don't buy unnecessary foods, like sugary cereals, cookies, candy; try to buy less food so things won't get wasted
  • Don't go clothes shopping so often
  • Disconnect cable TV
  • Don't go to the movies
  • Don't rent videos
  • Go to the library instead of buying new books (to be honest, this would probably end up costing us more, as we are notorious for returning books late and incurring huge fines.)
  • Wear the same clothes without complaining
  • Get rid of one of the cars (we had three at the time if I recall correctly.  Actually, it might have been two.  Doesn't matter really.)
  • Join Sam's Club or something like that so we can buy groceries in bulk
  • Turn lights off
  • Don't leave water running

That's about all I can remember.  I think my mother saw this list (I don't remember if I showed it to her or she found it) and she agreed with me on most of them, but she said that even if we were only living on one income, we would continue our violin lessons, which were private in-home lessons, because they gave an income to the violin teacher who earned very little money.  Also, the violin teacher would feel terrible if she lost the business, and my mother was very concerned that she should feel successful and that people appreciate her talents.

I think that you can catch a glimpse of the values that my parents have (and that they tried to teach us) that I understood that certain situations would call for giving up things that padded my life and made it more comfortable.  Even though we never lacked for anything, thank G-d, my parents worked hard to help us appreciate the things we had, and taught us to use them well so that our belongings would last and we wouldn't have to throw things out unnecessarily.  My parents are not wasteful people, and they work very hard to give me and my siblings comfortable lives.  I only hope that I'm putting what they taught me to good use.

As a curious sort of exercise, I made a new list for what I would cut back on now, should I need to do that for any particular reason.  It's probably not complete but it's what comes to mind now (again, in no particular order):
  • Possibly switch colleges, so my parents won't be paying the room and board fees at Stern (I'm on full tuition scholarship, which is a huge part of why I actually go to Stern).  Attend local college and live at home.
  • Fewer cell phones.
  • Don't go shopping so often.  Make do with clothes that I already have.
  • Wear contact lenses infrequently so that we don't have to buy new ones so often (because those are so expensive!  As are the lens solution and saline that I need to use [I'm sensitive about that {awwwww . . . }.])
  • Whenever I get money, put some in checking account and most into mutual funds.
  • Think through purchases before actually buying things.  Do I really *need* that?  Or do I just want it?
  • Don't buy sugary cereals, cookies, candy, expensive crackers.  Buy less food so that things won't get spoiled and go to waste.  Don't eat out.
  • Try to walk to local errands so that we don't have to take the car and spend the money on gas.
  • Buy books used, or take things out of the library (the former is probably a better option - as I said before, we're notorious for paying late fees).
  • Turn off lights when leave rooms.  Or better yet, if it's daylight outside, don't turn them on.
  • Get rid of one (or two) of the cars.
  • Print less so that we don't need to buy paper.
  • Don't leave water running.  Try to use dishes carefully so we don't run the dishwasher too often.
  • When buying things, look for items that are on sale.  Don't get hung up on brand names.  Use coupons.

Huh.  The thing is, most of the items on this list are things that don't necessarily have to be implemented in times of monetary distress . . . they are strategies or attitudes that need to be cultivated all the time, so that I can more effectively use my resources and be a little less wasteful.

Thoughts?

(And also, does anyone know why the sentences after the first set of bullet points get closer together? How can I fix that?)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I feel like a rubber band

It's interesting how one thing can make you both really happy and really sad, all at the same time.

Y'know?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ack

I have about seven drafted posts, but I can't bring myself to publish them. Somehow, knowing that nearly all my commenters (I don't know about the readers) know who I am makes it harder for me to use this blog as a venting place, because I am a wee bit scared of revealing too much about myself that maybe I don't want you all to know. That makes me kind of sad, because I liked being able to write about things without everyone knowing who I am. I want to write about myself, and feelings I have about things, and vent, and do all kinds of other things, but there's an inner plug stopping me and telling me to be more cautious. Also, because many of you will understand who I am referring to in some of my posts, I don't want anything to inadvertently become lashon hara about others.

This would be why I haven't posted anything of substance in a while.

I don't know that I can trust myself to reveal so much anymore.

Am I afraid of people knowing these things about me?

How much of what I write is for myself, and how much is for my audience?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

Closing the doors of the tent

UPDATE: I was informed that I might be misunderstanding YU's reasoning behind this move, and iy"H I will be contacting the proper people to clarify what is happening. Until then, I will leave this post up, unedited.

Okay. I am seriously, seriously annoyed.

All because of this.

YU has decided to cut Neve Yerushalayim (and its affiliated programs, I presume, since all the schools use a Neve umbrella transcript) from its Israel program. This means that students who come to Stern College for Women from any of these schools will receive not an ounce of credit for their year of study in Israel, all because YU is retaliating for negative publicity that the schools generate. Because these schools tend to discourage their students from continuing at Stern, YU has decided to award students who do go on to Stern from these schools by not giving them any credit at all.

Why does this matter?

It matters for many reasons. Firstly, students who are considering going to Stern may reconsider their choice of seminary based on this information. Frankly, I think that if there is a compelling enough reason to choose a particular seminary, receiving college credit for that year shouldn't be as much of a factor, but it is certainly convenient to know that you'll come back to the States as a college sophomore (or even a junior, depending on APs or college credit earned in high school) as opposed to starting as a freshman.

But another reason, and one that cuts deeper, is that this elimination of schools that talk anti-YU rhetoric is another way for YU to say, "We're not interested in those of a different hashkafa. If you don't believe in Torah u'Madda precisely, we're not interested in having you in our school."

This attitude frightens me.

I am a junior at Stern. I went to a bais yaakov seminary on the Neve campus for my year in Israel. I received credit for that year (albeit not as much as my counterparts from Michlalah and the like), and so entered Stern as a sophomore.

And oh, the pain that my seminary put me through for choosing to go on to Stern. But I went anyway. And I love it here. I have made some of the best friends of my entire life in this school. I have leadership opportunities here. I am learning Torah here. Was my seminary against my going to Stern? Yes. Did their negativity affect my initial perceptions of college? Yes. Were they wrong? Yes. Was I angry at them? Very. But do I think that such a school deserves not to receive credit from the Israel program? No.

It disturbs me that YU would be so narrow-minded as to reject schools that are of a different hashkafa than their own from the Israel program. YU President Richard Joel often speaks of a "big tent," that YU is an institution where people hashkafically to the right and left of Torah u'Madda should feel comfortable and welcome. In fact, I had a personal conversation with President Joel about this at the end of last semester. I was curious to know how he felt about students who came to YU with the philosophy of Torah u'Parnassa (i.e. coming to YU to get a degree so they can get a good job, not coming to YU because they necessarily want to be poster children for Torah u'Madda). He told me that if such students choose to attend YU, they would prefer that they not flaunt their disagreement of Torah u'Madda, and that they shouldn't say that their derech is better, because in President Joel's view, Torah u'Madda is lechatchilah, and students who openly disregard that, he feels, would not be showing respect to the institution.

I understand that position. But President Joel was referring to individual students who disagree with the Torah u'Madda hashkafah. These types of students don't automatically come from institutions that are anti-YU. In other words, the Israel institutions are not necessarily the only factor to contribute to a student's hashkafah. Assuming that all students from more right-wing schools believe in their institution's anti-YU perspective would be wrong.

And so it is unfair, and narrow-minded, and restrictive to deny Israel credit to schools that do not agree with the YU hashkafah. Because that is assuming that students cannot make hashkafic decisions of their own. And because it is gives these schools an excuse to justify to their students why they shouldn't continue at Stern, even when continuing at Stern could allow them to thrive and contribute and grow in a way that will make them happy.

What happened to the big tent? Why are its doors closing to certain populations?

What is going on here?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hehe

You know what I realized after my last couple of posts?

I have not discovered any magical secrets of life. I am simply coming to recognize the human condition, as it is - flawed, imperfect, but always reaching for more. Coming to these realizations, as universal as they might be, are always exciting and new when you can articulate them for yourself, and somehow hold extra meaning when you achieve this understanding for yourself and aren't just parroting what everyone around you says.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Confidence

This train of thought sort of follows from my previous post and from subsequent conversations I had with various people about the feelings I expressed before.

A friend mentioned to me that perhaps my perception of reality is not at all how things actually are. I perceive myself not to be helping anyone necessarily, while in reality others do feel that I to help them to some extent. I think that misunderstanding reality is something that we all struggle with to some degree or another, and that it manifests itself in different forms. For me, it's an occasional insecure or doubtful feeling.

I think that part of the reason this happens to me is because I tend to overanalyze and read into situations much more than what is actually happening. Because in my mind I jump ahead of what's actually happening in real life, my understanding of what's really going on gets skewed. If someone responds to me in a way that seems like they are irritated, I assume that they are annoyed with me, even if they're not, and I jumped to conclusions based on their tone. Remember being in high school and a teacher looked at you funny, and automatically you thought to yourself, "She/he hates me!"? Well, that was me. Heck, I sometimes still do that. If I'm standing by myself, and a group of girls near me starts whispering, I think that they're talking about me and making comments on the way I look. Is this a somewhat selfish trait? Well, yeah. Is it a sign of insecurity? Probably. Is this unusual and abnormal? I don't think so.

Part of the process of me getting comfortable with myself (and it's been a long road, and it isn't over yet) is coming to the understanding that feelings I have about myself and my role vis-a-vis others are often shared by other people. That it's okay to feel unsure about yourself sometimes. Everyone has moments of insecurity. The key is to (a) realize that you're not unusual in your struggles and (b) equip yourself with the tools to bring yourself to a correct mindset. I think (b) is something that needs to come from within more than without - having others around to be the ones to reassure you that you're not as bad as you think you are is great, but in the possible absence of having others to build you back up from those insecure moments, you need to be able to achieve it on your own.

Basically, you need to believe in yourself. You have to have a strong sense of yourself so that you can bounce back from those moments of insecurity. You need to have confidence.

So after I've said all this, how am I going to get to that place? How do I get to that point where reality won't be so skewed for me? Where I'll be less insecure, where I'll have clarity about how people see me and will truly believe that in my own way, I'm having an impact?

Working on relaxing my thoughts and not letting myself get too ahead of what's happening is one step. Truly believing others when they give me positive reinforcement and encouragement is another. Remembering that people have other thoughts in their minds besides for me (and that everyone has nisyonot) is a third step. Not getting bogged down in and discouraged by setbacks is a fourth. And perhaps not the last.

I think that if I can really put into practice everything that I've written, I am on my way to becoming even more of a better me, a stronger self, and a person who (hopefully) won't be so wrapped up in herself that she doesn't have the wherewithal to think about others.

(Wow. I can't believe I just posted this for everyone to read.)